Shopping for a DSLR camera lens can be very overwhelming. Who knew that there were so many different types of DSLR lenses? Are different brands compatible with others? Do all lenses fit on to the same DSLR cameras? What do each lens offer and why are they different and unique? These are many questions we’ve received from our photographers, and rightfully so. When I got my first Canon Rebel t6i DSLR, I was in love. I took my camera everywhere with me and shot just about everything. I finally got the hang of my lens and all the controls when I decided that I wanted more. I wanted to be able to zoom to shoot in different focal lengths. I wanted a wide-angle lens to capture panoramic shots. I wanted a macro lens for all the food pictures I take. But I had no idea which lens to purchase — I felt like there were hundred of lenses out there. So where to start?
I first began to research everything there is to know about camera lenses and sifted through each camera buying guide I could, which truly helped me make the right decisions when buying my extra lenses. After all of this work, I created a mini camera lens buying guide below to help you make the right lens choice. Keep on reading to learn more about focal length, aperture, camera accessories, pancake lens (yes, that’s a thing) and much more. Even if you’re just starting with your beginners DSLR or perhaps a semi-pro doing this for a career, we hope this can help you learn a significant amount about DSLR lenses.
Understanding DSLR Camera Lens Names
This was what I first had to figure out — the camera lens names. What in the world was a Canon – EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Standard? Or a Canon – EF70 – 300 IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens? Are camera companies speaking jibberish? What are these initials, numbers, and letters and what do they all mean? Is it to confuse us? Yes and no. This is just a bunch of information (more specifically camera specifications) crammed into one name. So let’s break it down.
To start, let us just focus on the following:
- Focal Length: The Lens’s angle of view or pretty much how wide the image is
- Aperture (f-stop): The focus of your scene or how much light enters the lens
- Image Stabilization: Helps with the effects of when your hands shake while using the camera
- Format: Sensor size
- Lens Mount: The size of your lens and if it is too big or small to fit your camera
What is Focal Length?
Focal length is pretty important when understanding camera lenses and choosing which lens to buy. To put it simply, focal length is the angle of view that your camera lens can cover (the lower the number the wider the angle.)
The Importance of Aperture (f-stop)
The aperture of a camera lens determines how much light is able to gather in your lens. You might have seen apertures written with F4, f/4, etc. These are all the same. The smaller the number, the more light is capable of gathering.
I love when I am able to take a picture and receive a sharp image behind the focus point. It is so creative and unique and really helps when I am shooting just for fun! I am able to shoot like this with a larger aperture. My friends that have lifestyle blogs are always raving about this feature and how amazing their photos turn out because of it.
Image Quality and Stabilization
This was a huge selling point for me when it came to buying a DSLR camera lens because I had an issue with shaky hands while shooting (maybe because I personally am bouncy and energetic/all over the place). My images were coming out blurry and my photos were ruined by this and the only way to fix this was with image stabilization.
Image stabilization in a camera body or lens reduces the blur that happens with camera shake. Some companies such as Canon, Fujifilm, and Nikon build image stabilization into the lens, but other companies have them in the camera body. So, look out for this while shopping for a camera lens, or double-check to see if your camera body already has it. Typically they do, and you can never go wrong having it in both the lens and body for double protection.
This was very crucial for me because my partner and I love to travel (and I love to take pictures when we travel) so I wanted a camera that is durable in all-weather conditions. We love go to the mountains where it snows and to the dessert where monsoons hit at any time. Having a reliable camera to cover all our bases in these weather conditions was very important.
Most cameras are lightweight and made of a plastic material. Depending on how much you are willing to spend, if you do spend more your camera will be more durable. (When it comes to camera and camera accessory shopping, the general rule is: the more expensive, usually the more durable). Mainly I focus on two elements that could ruin my camera: dust and water. So, spending a bit more on a more durable camera could be very beneficial for you like it is for me. Waterproof cameras never actually include DSLR cameras — it’s just impossible make them completely protected from the damage due to their builds. But you can grab a better built lens for better protection if your budget allows.
Most Common DSLR Lens Types
What is the difference between a zoom lens and a prime lens? A zoom lens is common and allows you to shoot near and far without having to change your lens. They are versatile. A prime lens are fixed at a certain focal length and this results in sharper images.
- Standard Zoom – A general lens that has a range of focal lengths.
- Telephoto Zoom – This lens is great for sports action shots, children running, and animals because it allows you to get up close and personal with your subject.
- SuperZoom – This is truly super! This lens has a wide range of focal lengths, from wide-angle to telephoto. Great lens for traveling.
- Wide-angle Zoom – One of my favorite lenses, the wide-angle. I took my wide-angle lens to Europe and had so much fun shooting landscapes and architecture (I got some amazing shots in the Musee du Louvre).
- Macro Lens – This is my food lens, remember? I love using this lens to take photos of thing extremely up close. The close-focusing is incredible.
- Fast Prime Lens – I like to call this the light lens. This lens is great for capturing people in natural light, which is my favorite way to shoot. The lens allows for you to shoot indoors without flash.
- Pancake Lens – These guys are exactly as they are named, flat and slim like a pancake. These lenses allow your camera to be compact and light.
As stated previously, it is common for lenses to work with the autofocus already built into your camera. Some cameras already have this built-in which allows you to get the shot in focus more quickly and quietly. This helps a lot with sports shots or action shots. I absolutely love shooting my cousins playing in the playground or capturing shots of my niece in ballet class, and autofocus really helps me get the perfect photo. If you love to shoot videos like I do, purchase a lens that has continuous autofocus. Trust me, you’ll love it.
Filters and Accessories
Filters for your lens can be important because they protect the lens! Also, a lot of times while shooting you come across reflections on the lens and filters prevent this. And lastly, if you want to reduce the amount of light coming into the lens, filters are a great quick accessory to add.
There are UV/protection, polarizing, and neutral density filters. I am extremely clumsy, so having a UV/protection filter is necessary. And anyway, it’s much less expensive to replace a filter vs. replacing a damaged lens, right? Polarizing filters are fun because they allow you to work with color. You can saturate, make colors stand out and more. Lastly, there are neutral density filters which help adjust the aperture or light entering the lens.
Other accessories that are fun for your camera are camera lens cases, cleaning kits, and lens pens. I highly recommend camera lens cases because they really do preserve and protect your lenses (considering how much money some of us drop on lenses — it’s well worth the investment). Also, a cleaning kit/lens pen is just as necessary — care for your lenses, they were an investment. Don’t forget to add a camera strap and look into camera cases to protect your camera and lenses from falling or becoming damaged.
Concluding our DSLR Camera Lens Guide
Whether you are a fashion blogger shooting photos of your wardrobe or a parent that just loves taking pictures of your children on the soccer field, the right camera lens is out there for you! The lens you end up choosing to capture all life’s precious moments will make a difference in your photos! I hope this article helped you narrow down your camera lens choice.
The ultimate, number one word of advice we can give is this — after you’ve understood the specs and what goes into naming lenses (as well as the types), you can start to narrow down a list of your own lenses that interest you. Then, simply search around the internet for image galleries and examples — they are literally thousands of every lens out there. Check in with Flickr and other image gallery specific sites — it’s worth the time to spend! Good luck.